Animate Yourself!

Anime. The word brings to mind different images. Comicon. Dragonball. Sailormoon. For many, the word brings to mind the manga and anime obsessed oddball found in the corners of comic stores often referred to as the "otakus." "Otaku" is Japanese slang for someone who is an obsessed fan of a theme, topic or hobby. The term is often used to refer to dedicated anime fans and conjures up the image of a teenager with thick-rimmed glasses suffering from social phobia and escapism. A new exhibition that opened in Los Angeles this month is helping change the stereotypical view of the art form that historically and continues to have a profound impact on global animation and art.

The exhibition named "ANIME! High Art – Pop Culture" opened on Thursday, May 14 to an eclectic crowd at the prestigious Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. The multimedia exhibit covered two floors featuring 400 cells, clips, character models and video clips of several groundbreaking, mainstream and cult animation series and movies such as "Akira," "Princess Mononoke," "Astro Boy," and "Ghost in the Shell."

To see a slide show of the event click HERE

The Deutsches Filmmuseum, based in Germany in partnership with the Academy of Motion Pictures of Arts and Sciences, is hosting the exhibit that runs until late August of this year.

Jessica Niebel of the Deutsches Filminstitut says, "Anime has been popular for a few decades. We thought it was about time to bring it to a museum. The different genres of Japanese animation has never been brought together quite like this in one place."

Like the name implies, the exhibition aims to show viewers that anime is not only reserved for video stores and in the collections of anime enthusiasts. The exhibit showcases a variety of genres such as historical animations, children's anime, shojo, shonen, erotic, co-productions with American animation studios and modern animation films that have broken into international film festivals.

There seemed to be something for everyone at the exhibit. Sailormoon for children of the 80's and 90's to the critically acclaimed series "Neon Genesis Evangelion" that remains a cult classic for teenagers and adults with its themes of social isolation, death, war, psychological pain and technology.

iyazaki's works were showcased as well. Miyazaki is known for his films "Spirited Away," "Princess Mononoke," Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind" and "Howl's Moving Castle."

Niebel explains of the exhibition, "I want people to see Japanese animation and how it works and how it is a universe in itself. It's very diverse. I want them to see these aesthetics have had influences on American and Europeans."

Niebel goes on to explain that anime has significantly influenced her own country in the small and fine arts. Not only has anime given birth to the German manga industry but has influenced modern German artists. Niebel goes on to explain that anime is found in everyday culture such as Hello Kitty, a fictional character that was created by the Japanese company, Sanrio. She says, "Every little girl in Germany has a ton of Hello Kitty stuff." She continues, "Anime can be see as a cultural ambassador for Japan. Anime has been influenced by Disney and vice versa. It's a globalized world. And this is only one example of globalization."

Mike Glad, a collector who is lending the majority of the pieces on display, is an avid collector of anime. Glad originally acquired an extensive collection of American animation focusing on the creations of Disney. In 1989 he decided to build his collection outside of the U.S. where he was exposed to Japanese animation.

Glad says, "What stimulates you is not what you've become familiar with but what you want to learn about." He continues, "I was struck by the hard edged, adult material. It intrigued me. I started to collect anime. The more I got, the more I wanted. I was overwhelmed with animations such as ‘Akira' and the issues they dealt with, such as the atomic bomb and how it had a huge effect in Japan."

As Glad comments, much of the initial appeal to adult audiences in countries outside of Japan was the serious themes and material that was often explored in a medium often reserved for children. Animation has often been perceived as a children's genre but themes such as the effect of the atomic bomb explores issues in the similar way a novel or film would.

Japan is still the only country to have suffered the atomic bombing on such a scale. There were not only 200,000 deaths but also countless injuries and radiation poisoning that created a population who were forced to live with deformations, cancers, discrimination and fear. Many were unable to have children for fear of passing on the effects of the atomic bomb and several psychological repercussions resulted from the two atomic bombs dropped on the cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

As can be seen, this theme of nuclear warfare is only one example of the countless heavy issues that are often explored in Japanese anime.

Throughout the night, there were many families, children, young and old visitors. The ongoing exhibition that started in Frankfurt and hit Copenhagen and now Los Angeles has attracted a diverse group of people and both sexes were present at the opening night reception.

Niebel says, "The main target group were families, kids, and the younger generation – people age 6 to 25. We were surprised to see a lot of business people. There are a lot of Japanese business partners at our exhibit. Bankers work internationally and want to learn more about the culture and background of the people they work with."

Along with the surprising amount of business and older patrons, there were many adults who seemed to have their own personal attachments to animation.

Sherri Ellis, who works for Sony in Animation and Visual Effects, says, "I love it. I'm overwhelmed by the history and scope of it. I grew up watching animation. A lot of it is in my childhood. It's amazing to see the groundbreaking works like Cowboy Bebop and Akira." Ellis explains that she is planning on visiting another day to spend more time at the exhibit. She continues, "I'm getting a greater appreciation to detail, especially seeing the line drawings."

Nathan Chew, a storyboard artist, worked in retail for several years before making the transition into a career in animation. He says, "I wish I saw something like this when I was younger. It would have been different if I had seen that the whole process wasn't just a mystery."

The exhibit showcased many line drawings and completed still images. In several cases, there were videos projected on screens throughout the exhibit, which allowed viewers to appreciate and get a better understanding of how the first sketches become live art, the final product.

For someone who grew up watching many an anime series during adolescence, the exhibit was an opportunity to revisit several of the works that I had thought I had forgotten in the residue of my early teens.

By no means was this exhibit breathtaking but it is worth a viewing for anyone who is interested in learning more about animation, a different culture and subsequently, their own culture.

Glad says, "I want to jolt the viewers. I want them to see there is more in the world going on than Hollywood."